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Duties and Dreams (Second Chance Series #3)

by John A. Heldt

Rating: *****

Duties and Dreams, the last installment in Heldt’s Second Chance series* finds the extended family of the Carpenters and Lees with new additions, aspirations, and ambitions.

Life is good for the blended Carpenter-Lee clan, living together in Hermosa Beach, Southern California, 1918.

But the three time-traveling siblings, Bill, Annie, and Paul, know the storm clouds of World War I are far from lifting and there is also the small matter of a Spanish Flu epidemic heading their way…

Duties and Dreams begins in halcyon fashion, six years after the previous outing. Annie and Andy have twin boys, and Bill and Cassie now have two daughters. As Paul muses in Chapter 3, their existence is “the picture of tranquility”, a phrase certain to provoke the gods, and merely a few paragraphs later, the Carpenter-Lee world is turned on its head, and the drama begins.

Heldt throws everything and more into this final book but with control and credibility. It’s a rollercoaster ride of emotion, action, and conflict, tautly plotted, tightly focused, and it’s brilliant.  Heldt seamlessly traverses genres and decades as he unfolds the conclusion of the Second Chance series, and he does so without any loss of continuity or momentum.

The narrative never really lets up, and although Heldt gives the reader a little of what they want, he ensures the novel is peppered with unexpected twists and reveals and is not afraid to pull some quite big and wholly unanticipated upsets.

Not least of these involve Shannon and Steve Taylor, whom Heldt introduced us to in the second novel and who are also time-travelers. The Taylors are in France, 1944 experiencing the brutality of Nazi occupation. Heldt sets up an interesting parallel with the Carpenter-Lees as Andy and Paul are drafted into the final days of WWI.

Indeed, Heldt plays with, and uses, foreshadowing to superb effect. The three siblings are aware of coming events as is the reader, who is also privy to several characters’ future intentions. Heldt takes this knowledge and works it cleverly into every area of the narrative, setting up some nail-bitingly suspenseful chapters.

Indeed, he provides the reassurance of a meticulously researched historical framework but sprinkles it with unpredictability, the areas of the novel set against the backdrop of both World Wars read like action/espionage thrillers yet thrive on fact.

Nonetheless, this is a character-driven series and Heldt takes all of his characters to, in some cases, the edge of sanity. The reader presumes there will be a happy ever after but Heldt always pays the piper and large swathes of Duties and Dreams are shot through with creeping unease and dread apprehension.

The situation with Bill and Cassie’s eldest daughter, six-year-old Bea, was one of the few, if not the only time, I have ever become emotional when reading. Indeed, despite the history and time-traveling, the fundamentals of human experience, emotion, and behavior do not change, merely adapt. Heldt recognizes this beautifully and without over-embellishment, writing some truly heartbreaking and tense emotional scenes, showcasing with subtle realism the very best and worst of the human condition.

Connected to the Taylors' narrative in France is Emilie Perot, born in 1910 but orphaned and now living with Shannon and Steve as their surrogate daughter. She is an excellent connective character and a well-depicted individual. It was smart not to draw out the truth between her and Paul for too long; their subplot and story made for an excellent novel in its own right.

As events accelerate toward the finale, the reader is kept guessing, and Heldt drives the action forward with efficiency and force, ensuring the pages keep turning even if some parts of the narrative are almost too nerve-shredding!

Duties and Dreams is a compulsively readable, hugely entertaining, and triumphant conclusion to yet another exceptional series from Mr. Heldt. Highly recommended.


*Click here for my review of Annie’s Apple (Second Chance Series #2)

*Click here for my review of The Fountain (Second Chance Series #1)

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